In the American campaign LARP (live action role playing) scene, I’ve noticed a heightened amount of discussion about ‘Main Character Syndrome,’ which describes when a character needs to scoop up plot in everything. Every game handles plot differently (and not every game provides ‘personal plot’ for each character), but many games seem to experience this issue in their culture.
This has produced frustration as well as discussion about the ‘special snowflake’ (or super-unique) aspects of characters and our real-life culture at large. This particular post was inspired by a discussion in the LARP United Players Facebook group.
Identifying Main Character Syndrome (MCS)
It’s important to note the difference between a character inserting herself into every aspect of plot and a character with a sense of self-importance or influence (earned or otherwise). I would say that the latter applies to my main character often and the former used to apply to her before she had a more specific direction.
Moving in a more specific direction has made the game more enjoyable for myself and others, and has also created an environment in which my character is a resource more than she is a problem or annoyance. (Is she her king’s problem…or his solution to his many problems? She endeavors to be a solution.)
Rather than offend others about why players and characters develop and exhibit MCS, I’d like to say that the below issues are sincerely introspective. I am focusing on what I have learned through my own actions – and the character’s impulses that I ultimately control.
Are You Playing a ‘Main Character’ Now?
There’s no need to scrap your character. Instead, learn more about your character. Think about why you or your character feels the need to be involved in everything what happens.
- Does your character fear they are not liked?
- Do you feel your character has no specific niche or job?
- Have others called or perceived your character as weak, lazy, or useless?
- Is your character marginalized or disenfranchised?
- Does your character has a strong sense of identity?
- Does your character want to be helpful, but does not know how to participate?
- Do you and your character feel emotionally exhausted because you have involved yourself in so many things?
The easiest thing to do is step back and look at it from the perspective of the other PCs. In retrospect, I can see how my character socially threatened some characters (or made others feel more comfortable). To a degree, your character doesn’t have to be aware of it, but you should make an effort to understand how it’s playing out so you do not negatively affect others’ game experiences on a significant level.
How do you move away from this without changing the integrity of your character? Assuming that most players want their characters to be special in some way, think about what makes the character different from others.
Pursue a niche in game. Find something your character likes doing (or a cause to believe in) and pursue it. If it’s pre-existing in the game world, it’s likely plot will come your way at some point.
Talk it out with storytellers or staff at an appropriate time. “Hey, I feel like my character is trying to be involved in everything and I’d rather focus on just a few things. What do you suggest?”
Are You Staff or Storyteller?
Some of the issue may arise due to the culture(s) and setting(s) of your game world(s) being different than real life, contemporary culture. Sometimes there’s a winner in real life, but often times everyone will still get a trophy. We also tend to enjoy being super unique, and it’s possible that we may seek these trophies and validations in games – and in your game specifically.
It’s not your job to be the psychologist of the PCs (or even their characters), but recognizing what people want and what wishes they may wish to fulfill can provide you success in running your game and weeding out Main Character Syndrome if you don’t want it there.
Give PCs Jobs (or Small Problems to Fix)
Like most other animals, people (and their fictional characters) can get anxious, lazy, or even destructive when they don’t have specific jobs to do. This will solve the MCS problem in some circumstances. To fix it:
- Provide them with specific tasks or job opportunities
- Present small and routine tasks or problems that must be fixed (something that must be maintained monthly)
- Have a helper NPC there to encourage shy characters to participate. Put ‘Main Characters’ in mentorship roles to help the new characters (and/or players) out in a supervised capacity.
How staff handles plot varies significantly from game to game. You can introduce PC or group-specific plot to focus the characters. As you might have guessed, if your game has a lot of characters with MCS, it may indicate you aren’t providing enough specific or specialized opportunities to them.
Should You Fix It?
MCS is something that happens in real life, too. As a player, it can be annoying to encounter, but I also see it as a diplomatic challenge that staff can assist players in handling. What better setting is there for learning how to deal with people who need a hand in everything than LARP? (I suggest staff involvement to ensure there are no hurt feelings out of game.)
Staff members can always check in with players and get a closer handle on game culture and whether this is a problem. Some games allow staff members to PC or play continuously present NPCs. Both options provide a more immersive perspective for staff and an excellent look into the culture of your own game.
It’s also possible that your game has only a few PCs with MCS or that some characters will learn to change or specialize on their own or as chance provides them opportunity to do so (as mine did). There are always going to be PCs that make other PCs feel obsolete or less skilled or talented, and not necessarily through malicious intent. Just be aware of it so you can prevent disruption in your game and carefully steer the characters.
My own move away from Main Character Syndrome was pretty organic. Once the character found a purpose, she focused on that and stopped butting into everything else. So yes, it is possible to play a character who feels self-important without actually hijacking every possible plot thread.
Have you ever dealt with Main Character Syndrome in your own characters and games? Please provide your tips for dealing with it in the comments.